Tasmania’s electricity woes

8 01 2016

Before putting my dear other half on a plane back to Queensland, I took her for a tour of the North West. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the Tarkine, so we’ll have to do it again some time when Glenda returns to Tassie.

We drove through the high country hydro electric network as part of the sight seeing trip, and made some interesting discoveries. Not least that Tasmania could be in a whole lot of strife thanks to a prolonged drought following what I think was the driest winter on record. No climate change here though, move right along…. the drought is so bad, there’s a huge hay shortage for this season’s animal feed, and hay bales are going for three times the normal price, causing, apparently, some thieving to occur. There’s even talk of importing feed from Indonesia, causing some concern for Tasmania’s bio-security…. and if all the farmers start destocking at the same time, the price of lamb and beef will probably collapse.

The alarming thing we saw though was just how low the dams are. We stopped at Lake Burbury for a break, and saw a brand new concrete boat ramp probably one hundred metres long recently built to the water line which is now at least twelve metres below the maximum (and I expect normal) water line…..

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Lake Burbury, way down at the water line

When I worked for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission at the start of my working career, I used to manually calculate the capacity of various water reservoirs and plot this volume against the depth of the water. Half the capacity resides roughly in the top 20% of the dams, so it comes as no surprise to me to be told Tasmania’s dams are at 24% capacity today.

As a result of such low dam volumes, Tasmania has been importing dirty brown coal power from Victoria. This wasn’t supposed to happen, in fact the opposite of this was the whole idea behind Basslink, Tasmania was supposed to export clean hydro power to Victoria….. but there you go, the future is now, and it’s full of surprises.

You see, Bass Link is broken. “TASMANIA’S electricity highway has come to a costly standstill because of a fault in the $800 million Basslink ­undersea cable” says the Mercury. All this technology everyone so foolishly believes in has its problems, and they can be costly to fix. This could go on long enough that the powers that be have decided to stall the sale of a gas powered back up power station up North in the Tamar so that it can be restarted to bolster generation capacity. Where’s the gas coming from? Well, not Tasmania, let me tell you….

I have to admit though that the hydro infrastructure is mightily impressive; and much older than I realised. I guess Tasmania must’ve had electricity for most of the 20th Century, but I had not really thought about when all this stuff was built.

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Waddamana Hydro Museum

I knew from visiting the Waddamana museum two years ago that the 7MW hydro power station was built in 1910, for a Zinc smelter no less. But much of what has since been built happened during the depression…. which is when the 90MW Tarraleah station was built. About as close as you can get to smack bang in the middle of Tasmania, this 80 year old bit of technology still impresses. The penstocks feeding the turbines down below on the Nive River fall over 200 metres, accelerating the water to a staggering 270 km/h…. it’s a wonder any of it holds together still!

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Tarraleah Station on the Nive R

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Tarraleah penstocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, listening to the radio down here in the far South, you can hear the electricity industry’s captains of industry moaning about the high cost of the feed in tariff, all 8c/kWh of it!

These people are clearly not interested in generating the clean power we all think we have to have, they’re only obsessed about the profits they can derive from it. Obviously, this is what happens when you privatise essential services. And still the majority votes for the capitalist parties. It’s mind blowing, really.

Back on my own in Geeveston now, it’s back to the grind as soon as I save this post. More tree clearing to be done, black currants to harvest, cherry trees to de-slug, getting chooks today; and tomorrow I’m finally meeting the structural engineer for our house building, and Monday hopefully will see an order put in for our double glazing before the economy tanks. The signs aren’t good, this early in the year too. Wish me luck!

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